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New clashes over same-sex marriage

10 October 2014

Exile: Davis Mac-Iyalla outside the Malawian Embassy in 2010, protesting against a gay couple's imprisonment in Malawi

Exile: Davis Mac-Iyalla outside the Malawian Embassy in 2010, protesting against a gay couple's imprisonment in Malawi

THE conservative Evangelical group Reform has pulled out of shared conversations about same-sex unions initiated by the Pilling report. It is claiming that "orthodox Anglicans" are being excluded by the terms of reference for the conversations.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the chairman of the Reform council, Prebendary Rod Thomas, said: "The shared conversations must acknowledge that scripture remains authoritative for the Church of England, and that the outcome of the conversations is genuinely open-ended.

"Unless that is clarified, and the recently announced new objective is withdrawn, we cannot see a way forward."

Reform has criticised what it described as changes to the aims of the conversations, announced after they were piloted by the College of Bishops last month ( News, 19 September). However, a spokesman from Church House denied that a statement released after the College met altered the objectives of the conversations which were set out in June. 

"It was no more than a general report of the proceedings and should not be over-interpreted," the spokesman added. 

The statement said that participants in the conversations should make it possible for everyone to "live together as a family who disagree with one another". Reform argues that this would require participating members to reject the C of E's current teaching that sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage is wrong.

Reform's statement also calls for the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Revd Alan Wilson, a prominent and vocal supporter of same-sex marriage, and the author of More Perfect Union? Understanding same-sex marriage, to be "admonished" for failing to uphold the Church's teaching on sexuality, and for calling conservative Evangelicals "homophobic".

Separately, up to 300 Anglicans, including dozens of priests and one serving bishop, have signed an open letter that urges gay bishops to reveal their sexuality publicly.

The letter, "A Love Letter to Gay Bishops", appeared in The Sunday Telegraph this week. It states: "We write to assure those bishops who may choose to openly acknowledge their sexual orientation as gay or bisexual that you will receive our support, prayer, and encouragement.

"Sadly, we live at a time when those who are honest about being LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex] and Christians are treated with hostility by a vocal minority within and outside the Church.

"We have no doubt that the vast majority of Anglicans will welcome and embrace those of you who are gay or bisexual for your courage and conviction if you come out."

The letter was organised by the pressure group Changing Attitude, which campaigns for the "full inclusion" of LGBTI people in the C of E. The letter was also signed by non-Anglicans, including Methodist ministers, Baptists, members of the United Reformed Church, and Roman Catholics.

The signatories insist that they do not support "outing" gay bishops against their will, but say to any bishops who are gay: "If you stand out we will stand beside you."

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, a vicar in the diocese of Durham, signed the letter. She said on Monday that, while she wanted any gay bishops to come out, she still had empathy with those who had not. "I think there is a huge amount of pressure on bishops to toe the line and be quiet. I thought the letter was a small gesture, but maybe it could help create a safer and more welcoming atmosphere."

Dr Threlfall-Holmes said that younger Christians especially would see the "hypocrisy" of secretly gay bishops as a sin, not being gay itself.

Another signatory was the Revd Benny Hazlehurst, assistant chaplain at a young offenders institution in Dorset, and the director of Accepting Evangelicals, a group that supports same-sex partnerships. He said that the letter was not an attempt to intimidate gay bishops into coming out, but to support any who "might have the courage" to be open about their sexuality.

"We do need some openness and honesty in this if we are going to move forward as a Church," he said. "The [Pilling conversations] will be severely hampered if we don't find it in our hearts to welcome the honesty of people at every level of church life."

He hoped that personal relationships in the College of Bishops were strong enough that coming out "would lead to a pastoral response rather than knee-jerk one".

Among the 300 signatories was the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, who has suggested in a new book that there are could be many as ten gay bishops in the College (News, 3 October).

The only two priests known to have entered a gay marriage - the Vicar of St Mary with All Souls', Kilburn, and St James's, West Hampstead, the Revd Andrew Foreshew-Cain; and Canon Jeremy Pemberton, Deputy Senior Chaplain and Deputy Bereavement and Voluntary Services Manager in the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust - have also signed the letter.

Canon Pemberton has launched a legal action against the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, and the Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Richard Inwood, after another NHS trust withdrew the offer of an appointment, owing to Bishop Inwood's refusal to grant him a licence (News, 12 September).

Gay-rights activists supporting Canon Pemberton, and led by the veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell, confronted Dr Sentamu on Tuesday at an event at Southwell Minster. Among the demonstrators was Davis Mac-Iyalla, a Nigerian gay Christian activist (see book review).

Mr Tatchell told Dr Sentamu to "repent your support for anti-gay discrimination", but the Archbishop said that he could not comment because of the ongoing legal case. A spokeswoman for the Archbishop also declined to comment later that day, on the same grounds.

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